Scandinavian and African American History Month

Frequently our friends at church request that Nathan or the choir sing more southern gospel style music. Here ya go.

February is African American History month, a time to be intentional in learning from and about the black people who share and empower our great nation. Gospel music has its roots in the music of African slaves in America.  Here is our honoring of that heritage with a song. Please keep reading below…

“The Gospel of Grace”  ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘I’m New Born Again’ arranged by Mark Hayes

Nathan and I live in the racially diverse community of North Minneapolis. We have begun to ask some questions of ourselves regarding our identity as white people and the assumptions we make about what it means to be black or what it means to be white.

One of those assumptions was challenged last week.


I sit on the Site Council for our local elementary school. At our last meeting we were discussing some of the plans for how to highlight African American History throughout the month. It’s an important theme for all of the kids to understand more about the respective heritages of their classmates. Being that this school is 70% black, February is significant. As some ideas were thrown around about performances, or parents visiting, I kept feeling myself getting stuck by a thought that I finally voiced:

“Sure, there are things that Nathan and I can do that are from African American culture, but I don’t feel qualified to present information about black history and culture, being that I am very not black at all.”

I don’t like to do things wrong. It’s embarrassing.  To try to be helpful but find I’m just making a fool of myself -ugh! These were the hesitations I had about being a voice in the conversation about Black History.  What kind of crazy white people offer to perform a gospel medley to a group of black people? As if we have anything to offer. It seems dangerously cliché. It potentially reeks of naivety (the even more evil twin of ‘doing things wrong’). It feels smug and hints at “let me tell you how it’s done.”

While my concern was received with some understanding, I was promptly schooled by the two African American men in the group:

“It doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are able to share something, and the kids can learn something. As a result, they can say, ‘Hey, I heard this because of African American History month.’”   (my paraphrase)

I was kind of taken aback. They were empowering me with the realization that it’s not about me. It’s about who we are honoring. What’s important is to be spreading awareness, encouraging curiosity, featuring specific cultures, and being a voice in the conversation.

What I had been focused on is the chasm between my skill set and the black music style. On one side is the fact that we are classically trained musicians who primarily rely on printed notes to guide our performance. On the other side of the chasm is the reality that African American music is not from that vein at all. There isn’t notation sufficient to encapsulate the cry in the riff of an African American Spiritual.  

Back on “my” proverbial side – I am rather reserved when it comes to physicality and expressiveness. African American culture is one of more voice, more movement, more color, more of a lot of things than what is normal for my temperament.

With all these difference, what can I even do?

One option is to sit on the sidelines and let others – the “more qualified” – tell the story.

Another option is to pressure myself to learn more, practice more, and try to earn the qualifications to speak up (in the meantime feeling the weight of not-enough-ness)

Or, with the mindset of giving honor where it is due, I can right now reach into my current tool kit, bring out the skills that I have, and use them as mirrors to reflect the beauty and dignity of that something, even if it feels foreign.

Here is a bit of irony.  Whenever Nathan breaks into song around the house, playing with the kids or cleaning, it is almost always in the style of gospel or blues or jazz.  This Swedish homeschooled boy defaults to the soul of the spiritual. Now if that’s not influence I don’t know what is!

P. S. The featured artwork this week is by 9 year old Lina, the daughter of a friend of ours.  She did just what we are talking about here. She reached into her toolbox of drawing skills and washable markers and honored the people she admires.




P. P. S. If you’re a research nut, you may like this Library of Congress collection of sound recordings of blues and gospel songs.


“The Gospel of Grace”  ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘I’m New Born Again’ arranged by Mark Hayes

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
was blind but now I see.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
the hour I first believed.

I found free grace and dying love, I’m new born again,
been long time a-talkin’ ’bout my trials here below.
Free grace, free grace, free grace, sinner.
Free grace, free grace, I’m new born again.

So glad, so glad, I’m new born again,
been a long time a-talkin’ ’bout my trials here below.

My Savior died for your and me, I’m new born again,
been a long time a-talkin’ ’bout my trials here below.
I know my Lord has set me free, I’m new born again,
been a long tie a-talkin’ ’bout my trials here below.

Free grace, free grace, free grace, sinner.
Free grace, free grace, I’m new born again.

So glad, so glad, I’m new born again, 
been a long time a-talkin’ ’bout my trials here below.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
bright shining as the sun,
we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
that when we’ve first begun.

I’m new born again!